Does a letter from a secretary create a Bahai Teaching?July 18, 2015
“Unity of doctrine is maintained by the existence of the authentic texts of Scripture and the voluminous interpretations of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, together with the absolute prohibition against anyone propounding “authoritative” or “inspired” interpretations or usurping the function of Guardian. Unity of administration is assured by the authority of the Universal House of Justice.” Universal House of Justice, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Netherlands, March 9, 1965: Wellspring of Guidance, pp. 52-53
Imagine the very idea of adding more text and calling this a Bahai Teaching? Well when it comes to the topic of homosexuality, this is what some Bahais do. A man who calls himself Dr Johnson, who often comments on my blog, seems to also think that it is a “Bahai Teaching” that masturbation is a bad thing. And so…
I have published Dr Johnson’s comments (link to his comments) because there might be a few Bahais that share these views as to what is a Bahai Teaching. Most of these comments focus on adultery or cheating on one’s spouse, which has nothing to do with a committed same-sex marriage, but the point I wish to make is the he treats texts from letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as if these are Bahai Teachings and goes so far as to put Shoghi Effendi’s name underneath these.
In the future I will not allow any future comment on my blog where you (Dr Johnson) claim that something is a Bahai Teaching unless you provide a clear quotation from Bahai Scripture (link to what is Bahai Scripture). Expressing your views of the Bahai Teachings as your own personal point of view is fine. You have repeatedly ignored my request to distinguish between the lesser authority of a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what you call a Bahai Teaching and so I assume you are consciously doing this.
I am sure that you are aware of the following letter but here it is again: “I wish to call your attention to certain things in “Principles of Bahá’í Administration” which has just reached the Guardian; although the material is good, he feels that the complete lack of quotation marks is very misleading. His own words, the words of his various secretaries, even the Words of Bahá’u’lláh Himself, are all lumped together as one text.
This is not only not reverent in the case of Bahá’u’lláh’s Words, but misleading. Although the secretaries of the Guardian convey his thoughts and instructions and these messages are authoritative, their words are in no sense the same as his, their style certainly not the same, and their authority less, for they use their own terms and not his exact words in conveying his messages.
He feels that in any future edition this fault should be remedied, any quotations from Bahá’u’lláh or the Master plainly attributed to them, and the words of the Guardian clearly differentiated from those of his secretaries.”
Letter on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, The Unfolding Destiny of the British Baha’i Community, p. 260
There are more letters expressing a similar view (link) – that a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi does not share the same authority as anything penned by Shoghi Effendi himself. And only the Guardian (Shoghi Effendi) was authorized by Abdul-Baha in his Will and Testament to make authorized interpretations of Bahai Scripture. Outside of this it is up to each of us to apply the Bahai Teachings as we think they should be applied and each of us is free to express our own interpretations as personal understandings. Added to this is the authority of the Universal House of Justice to make policy about the practice (social teachings) of the Bahai community. Their 2014 letter makes it clear that a same-sex married couple is not welcome to join the Bahai community let alone able to marry after they join the community. Although whether or not this policy is intended to override the Bahai teaching that the law of the land is to be respected and obeyed by Bahais is not clear to me. However this is Bahai policy not a Bahai Teaching. See my May blog (link) where I critique the first part of this letter by the Universal House of Justice.
So then I ask you and other Bahais who do likewise, why refer to these letters as if these are Bahai Teachings when we have plenty of scripture by Baha’u’llah as well the interpretations by Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi? It seems not only irreverent but actually wrong to place more emphasis on what is in a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi than on what is in Bahai Scripture. And to the point, if there is a contradiction between what is expressed in a letter and what is penned by Baha’u’llah, Adbul-Baha or Shoghi Effendi, then as a Bahai, I choose the later because the principles of justice and equality are more important than anything else.
The Book Lights of Guidance is not a source for Bahai Scripture and if you cannot see this, read my 2014 blog + screenshot here. If you wish to quote from this book and call this a Bahai Teaching, then find the original source in Bahai Scripture.
Here is another blog of mine (link) showing as much of the original context for the 5 letters that mention homosexuality (out of thousands that do not) as I can. Where the letters are shown in full it is very clear to me that the intent of these letters was advice or current policy or to share information but certainly never ever to be confused with the status of Bahai Scripture or a Bahai Teaching.
I will take just one example from something you wrote, Dr Johnson, to show you how in my view it goes against the Teachings of Baha’u’llah to add in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi as a source for a Bahai Teaching.
You wrote: “When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life … “ This text is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and I critique this phrase in my September 2013 blog here because there is no source to be found to back up what the secretary wrote. I state that there is no source because if there was one it would be accessible and I am sure that I would have found it by now having access to texts in Persian or Arabic as well as English. The only way I would not have access is if there was a text at the World Centre where I do not have access. I do not think that this is likely since the only source to be found is in a letter penned by a secretary in English in 1949. In the comments underneath my September 2013 blog I refer to a text by Baha’u’llah that refers to punishments related to adultery and you made a comment there yourself lower down. So I assume you either forgot, ignored, or didn’t care that what the secretary wrote is not backed up by Bahai Scripture.
However Baha’u’llah did write “Be thou of the people of hell-fire, but be not a hypocrite.” (Cited in a compilation on Trustworthiness. Also in Compilation of compilations, Volume 2, page 337) which brings me to my next point.
The Bahai Teachings are: equality for all, justice for all, the principle of the independent investigation of truth and so on. See my blog which lists the major Bahai teachings. One of the Bahai Teachings is the distinction between social teachings which change over time, and Bahai teachings which do not change. I would agree with you that many Bahais currently think that a same-sex marriage between two Bahais is not possible and this social teaching is reinforced by the current policy of the Universal House of Justice which has the authority to make such policy. However what Bahais think or do is not the same as what is a Bahai Teaching. Only Baha’u’llah, Abdul-Baha and Shoghi Effendi can state what is a Bahai Teaching. No one else can add in new teachings.
Finally, do you really think it is a Bahai Teaching that masturbation is a bad thing? You do not state this clearly in your comments, so that is why I am asking. If you wish to follow what is written in letters written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi personally as if these words have the same authority as Bahai Scripture, all good, but on my blog, I will not allow any more of your comments if you continue to confuse the distinctions between what is a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi and what is a Bahai Teaching.
I end with a quotation from the Universal House of Justice in relation to the book Lights of Guidance and note their emphasis on thinking for oneself and applying the Bahai Teachings as principles rather than taking the hellfire and damnation approach.
“The Universal House of Justice does not feel that the time has come for it to provide detailed legislation on subjects such as abortion, homosexuality and other moral issues. The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer.
This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.
It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.”
The Universal House of Justice, 1988 June 2005, `Detailed Legislation on Moral Issues´